A hesitant step by Justify the morning after winning the Kentucky Derby was enough to create quite the scare.
All the fuss was over a bruised heel on his left hind foot.
Trainer Bob Baffert believes the trouble is over now and that it won't keep Justify from running in the Preakness with a very real chance at the Triple Crown.
Baffert said Thursday that Justify is doing well and is on track to run in the May 19 race. The veteran trainer attributed the injury to the muddy track at Churchill Downs for the Derby and tender feet that were sensitive to gravel outside the barn the morning after.
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"We were treating it for a cracked heel, but it never developed because we didn't let it develop," Baffert said on a conference call. "It's all behind us, and we're on to Baltimore."
Justify returned to the track at Churchill Downs to gallop Thursday, with assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes reporting to Baffert that the Derby winner was sharp. Don't take it just from Baffert, though, veteran trainer D. Wayne Lukas also watched closely and said Justify looked excellent.
"He jogged off perfectly sound, he turned around and galloped very strong," said Lukas, who is expected to saddle Bravazo and Sporting Chance in the Preakness. "I know everybody was watching and looking for a little crack in the armor, but it wasn't there today and he looked excellent out there. Very good. And showed no signs of what I call stress — breaking out or anything. It was a good day for him. He had a wonderful day."
Justify got in a good day on the track after Baffert rested him following the foot condition that he initially referred to as scratches similar to diaper rash. Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, which co-owns Justify, was worried when the horse didn't want to put his heel down but credited Baffert and his team for moving quickly with treatment.
"Obviously it's something that was concerning at the time," Walden said. "I was certainly pleased with the way he galloped this morning, and I think that would be a very good indication that the bruise is behind him."
Justify is undefeated in four starts and expected to be a heavy favorite against Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip and others at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The consensus is he'll be more than an even-money favorite on the morning line and is far and away the best horse in the field for the second jewel of the Triple Crown as long as he's healthy.
Mad at himself for exposing Justify to the gravel on Sunday morning and setting off a "firestorm," Baffert knows a thing or two about how to guide horses on this two-week turnaround. He is four-for-four with Derby winners in the Preakness and will be trying to win the Triple Crown for the second time in four years after ending the drought with American Pharoah in 2015.
Baffert doesn't mind fielding questions about Justify, especially considering how dominant his Derby victory was and the high expectations ahead.
"It's a Derby winner. It's not like any horse," Baffert said. "I can understand why people were concerned because you don't want to see your Derby horse like that. We jumped on it right away. We didn't give it a chance for it to get any worse."